Whatever one may think about the SNS (Srpska Napredna Stranka [Serbian Progressive Party], a more moderate and politically viable spin-off from Seselj’s toxic SRS), it is truly the only opposition party in Serbia which is large enough to be able to create some momentum for reform and/or represent an alternative policy opinion in Serbia, and as such one would expect it to play a valuable role in the Serbian politics. Today and joined by its allies, it held a rally named “The Day of Change” which, one would hope, was to serve two goals: a) have the parliamentary elections held befor spring 2012 and b) present the reason what the SNS would do better than the incumbents.
The rally seemed to be well attended (the SNS says 100,000+, police 40,000) with people driven to Belgrade form all over Serbia, and then what happened? Well, the SNS showed (once again) that it sadly does not have enough will (or courage? or capacity?) to even think of anything new and good to heat up the blood in the beleaguered Serbian electorate. The rally, as they sadly always tend to do, focused solely on what seems to be the only policy proposal of the opposition in Serbia: holding an early election. And even that was done in the vaguest (not a date was specified) and most derivative of ways: Tomislav Nikolic (the president and founder of the party) decided to start a hunger strike until a parliamentary election is called. Instead of actually explaining why anybody should vote SNS at the next election, there was some tear-jerking drivel (Nikolic: “Serbia occasionally deserves a sacrifice.”) and some usual drivel about (frankly, non-existent) repression, which is even more bizzare coming from people who rarely objected (and never really denounced) their ex-leader Seselj’s gun and rusty shoe-spoon waving, nor Velja Ilic’s (current ally) troubled relationship with the press. Of course there was the usual mention of Serbia’s large economic and governance problems (corruption, strong role of oligarchs, depopulation, Kosovo, etc.) but sadly no real policy proposals.
Now, focusing on the provenance of the people in the SNS elite and their soiled political careers would be unfruitful, as sadly there is a very small number of politicians or prominent figures in Serbia who have not been implicated in a scandal or have not been in close ties with relatively toxic characters, so let’s focus on what the main problem is with the SNS: it does not bring anything new to the table like good oppositions should (especially with a progressive sounding name). Even Nikolic’s hunger strike is a deja-vu: Seselj, the very person the SNS wants to differentiate from, did it. There are no white papers, no plans (e.g. setting up of a professional civil service, better enforcement of anti-monopoly laws or a coherent industrial policy) just the same old-tired goal: having elections, as early as possible.
This may be a symptom of a general transitional country equation of elections and a functioning political system (an interesting damning take on this is Wars, Guns and Votes). To a large extent, one can blame this obsession for the lack of true policy dialogue in Serbia: not only does it make sense to always call for elections when your opponent slips if you know they’re going to happen, but also any long-termism is discouraged if parties think constantly of the opinion polls. The sad truth is, if there was no EU to aspire to and emmulate, probably the little there is of discussion and implementation of policies in Serbia would be even less. Maybe Serbian politics would even be improved by having set term governments?
On the other hand, it may actually be that the electorate is simply not interested in any policy talk, but just enjoys brawls and posturing. Leaders are to an extent a product of their constituents. Still, the SNS should do a bit more then to simply seem like yet another group of old faces wanting to be in power just for the sake of it. Even if they don’t succeed in getting into government they would do a huge favour to Serbia by making its political pond less stagnant.
In other news,:
In Croatia, the protests continue, John Kay ever so elegantly explains the rut of policy thinking elsewhere, the Arctic Monkeys have an ok and very Oasis-y new single and we will hopefully be sated by a new Woody Allen movie to premiere at the Cannes (release date in Britain unknown, May 2011 on the continent) [old news, I know].